Archive Page 2

Four Common Bad Habits Can Age You by 12 Years

CigaretteFour common behaviors, when combined, can increase the risk of death and age a person by 12 years, according to a recent large study from the University of Oslo. 

The bad habits were: smoking tobacco; drinking greater than three alcoholic drinks per day for men and more than two daily for women; getting less than two hours of physical activity per week; and eating fruits and vegetables less than three times daily.

People in the study who had all four habits had a substantially increased risk of death but also seemed 12 years older than those with the healthiest lifestyles.

More information:

Source: Elisabeth Kvaavik, PhD; G. David Batty, PhD; Giske Ursin, MD, PhD; Rachel Huxley, DPhil; Catharine R. Gale, PhD , “Influence of Individual and Combined Health Behaviors on Total and Cause-Specific Mortality in Men and Women, The United Kingdom Health and Lifestyle Survey”, Arch Intern Med. 2010;170(8):711-718

Concerns are Mounting Over Deadly Fungus in Northwest U.S. and British Columbia

Trees and soil in the Pacific Northwest are thought to be the source of the fungusA new deadly strain of an airborne fungus, called Cryptococcus gattii, is infecting both animals and people in the Pacific Northwest and British Columbia, according to Duke researchers. 

Although rare so far, this airborne fungus has been highly virulent with a mortality rate of about 25 percent. It typically only infects immunocompromised patients, but this new strain is genetically different and is a threat to healthy people as well.

Treatment of this highly lethal infection requires months to years of antifungal medications. Surgery is often necessary to remove the large masses known as cryptococcomas that can develop in various parts of the body.  There is no known method of prevention or vaccination at this point.

C. gatti has historically been a tropical fungus normally found in South America, Australia and Papua New Guinea. In these areas, it tends to favor eucalyptus trees with rates of infection among people being relatively low.

However, in 1999, the fungus emerged as a new strain on the east side of Vancouver Island where it is thought to have infected certain areas of soil, water, and local trees. From 1999 through 2003 the outbreak was confined to the island, but since 2003 the infection has also been found in the mainland of British Columbia, Washington state, California and Oregon.   Given this path, as well as the fact that C. gattii potentially can be dispersed through export of trees and woody products, air currents, water currents, and biotic sources, such as birds, animals, and insects, the researchers predict further spread of the fungus into the U.S. 

The disease is not contagious from person to person or person to animal.  It is thought to spread through the air to both humans and animals by inhalation of spores released by the fungus from the trees, soil, water or air.  

“The primary site of infection is the lung; C. gattii can lead to pneumonia or formation of cryptococcomas. The infection can disseminate to most other organs, notably the central nervous system (CNS), where it causes meningoencephalitis or brain cryptococcomas”, according to a February 2010 article in Emerging Infectious Diseases.

Most people never develop symptoms, but the spore-forming fungus can cause symptoms in people and animals two weeks or much longer after exposure.  Symptoms in people include a cough that lasts for weeks, sharp chest pain, shortness of breath, headache, fever, nighttime sweats and weight loss. 

 Cats, dogs and a wide range of both domestic and wild animals have been infected.  In animals the symptoms are a runny nose, breathing problems, nervous system problems and raised bumps under the skin.

Although the occurrence of this infection is rare, the CDC warns residents and even tourists in these areas to be aware of suspicious symptoms such as those described above, which should be reported to their physicians. 

SOURCE: “Emergence and Pathogenicity of Highly Virulent Cryptococcus gattii Genotypes in the Northwest United States”, PLoS Pathogens 2010.

SOURCE: “Potentially deadly fungus spreading in US, Canada”, Reuters Health, April 23, 2010

SOURCE: “Cryptococcus gattii Risk for Tourists Visiting Vancouver Island, Canada”, Emerging Infectious Diseases, Vol 13, No. 1, January 2007

SOURCE: “Epidemiology of Cryptococcus gattii, British Columbia, Canada, 1999–2007″, Emerging Infectious Diseases, Volume 16, Number 2–February 2010 

SOURCE: “Projecting Global Occurrence of Cryptococcus gattii”, Emerging Infectious Diseases, Volume 16, Number 1–January 2010


New Weight-Loss Drug Decreases Hunger

Bathroom scalesA new and potentially exciting weight-loss drug is on the horizon, but has not yet been approved by the FDA.  The compound, called Attiva, is a  superabsorbent hydrogel capsule which is made entirely from food components. 

Attiva is to be taken with water before mealtimes to induce satiety.  When the water mixes with the hydrogel, the substance expands to fill the stomach, making less room for food, causing the person to eat less. 

The material then passes to the smaller intestine, decreasing its volume and slowing the rate of sugar absorption, making for better glycemic control, according to the researchers who developed Attiva.  Finally, it degrades in the colon where it releases the absorbed liquids, and is elimated from the body in the stool.

So far, researchers have found Attiva to be safe and well-tolerated.  Gastrointestinal symptoms, particularly nausea, were the most common side effect occurring in 7.4% of patients taking the capsules.

Source:  Heshmati HM, et al “Attiva, a novel superabsorbent biodegradable hydrogel, increases the feeling of satiety in humans” AACE 2010; Abstract 605. 

Source: “AACE: New Hydrogel Diminishes Hunger”, MedPage Today, April 22, 2010 


Can Multiple Sclerosis be Cured with a Simple Surgical Procedure?

A surgical nurseA simple corrective surgical procedure may offer MS patients a cure for their disease, but experts are warning that more research needs to be done.

MS has long been regarded as an autoimmune disease, but an Italian researcher, Paolo Zamboni, MD, of the University of Ferrara, in Ferrara, Italy, says it may result from poor vascular circulation in the brain.   If so, a minor surgical procedure, called percutaneous transluminal angioplasty, could open the veins and potentially halt or reverse the course of the disease.

“The theory is this: Abnormal flow through the azygous and jugular venous systems results in a build-up of iron in the brain. The excess iron damages blood vessels and allows the metal, as well as other substances, to cross the blood-brain barrier,” according to an article in MedPage Today. 

The case is not proved, however, and experts caution that more study is needed.  

Source: “AAN: Scientists Caution MS Patients on New Theory”, MedPage Today, April 15, 2010 


Trichloroethylene Linked to Parkinson’s Disease

Trichloroethylene (TCE) has once again been linked to increased rates of Parkinson’s disease.  In this recent study from the Parkinson’s Institute in Sunnyvale, California, Parkinson’s disease developed in individuals with occupational exposure to TCE at more than five times the rate seen in those without such exposure.

More Information: ToxFAQs for Trichloroethylene (TCE) from the U.S. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry

Source:  Goldman S, “Parkinson’s Disease Risk is Increased in Discordant Twins Exposed to Specific Solvents” AAN 2010.

Source: “AAN: Industrial Cleaner Again Tied to Parkinson Risk”,  MedPage Today, February 07, 2010

Excess Fat Around the Abdomen May Increase the Risk of Dementia

Measure your abdominal girth on a regular basisIn addition to the heart, researchers are finding that the brain also appears to be a target organ for the harmful effects of central obesity. In a recent study of 6,600 people, those with the greatest central fat accumulation had almost a three-fold higher rate of dementia 36 years later than those with the least amount. 

This study contributed to the growing body of evidence that centralized obesity is dangerous, even for those who are not overweight.

Excess fat around the abdomen has previously been found to be an independent predictor of diabetes, insulin resistance, coronary heart disease, stroke, and mortality.

More Information:

Source: Neurology, March 26, 2008

Fat Cells Can Increase Stroke Risk

Measuring your waist line regularly is a good way to keep an eye on weight gainBeing overweight increases the risk of ischemic stroke by 22%, while being obese increases the risk 64%, according to Italian Researchers from the University of Naples Medical School. In their 2010 study of almost 2.3 million people, the researchers found that being overweight and obese independently affected stroke risk.  

One possible reason for this, one of the researchers told Reuters, is that fat cells can secrete unhealthy substances that promote inflammation and contribute to hardening of the arteries and blood clotting.

Source: “Being overweight ups stroke risk, study confirms”, Reuters Health, April 5, 2010

More Information:  Control weight gain with exercise

Many Long-Term Smokers have Chronic Lung Disease, But Don’t Know They Have It

the lungsLong-term smokers are at high risk of developing a chronic lung condition called COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), but many are not even aware they have it during the early stages.  In a recent Canadian study of long-term smokers, about one in five were found to have COPD, but only a third of them knew they had the condition.

COPD causes a slow damage to the lungs. The destruction is irreversible, making it the leading cause of death and illness worldwide.

COPD develops slowly, and it may be many years before symptoms become noticeable. The severity of the following symptoms depends on how much of the lung has been destroyed. If you continue to smoke, the lung destruction will be more extensive than if you stop smoking.

  • Shortness of breath, especially with exercise
  • Chest tightness
  • Cough (A cough that doesn’t go away and coughing up large amounts of mucus are common signs of COPD)
  • Sputum (mucous) production
  • Wheezing

Most COPD is caused by long-term smoking and can be prevented by not smoking or quitting soon after you start. Damage to your lungs can’t be reversed, so treatment focuses on controlling symptoms and minimizing further damage.

Breathing in other kinds of lung irritants, like pollution, dust, or chemicals over a long period of time may also cause or contribute to COPD.

If you think you might be at risk of having COPD, ask your doctor to order a simple breathing test called spirometry.

More Information: Quitting Smoking, About COPD

Source:  Hill K, et al “Prevalence and underdiagnosis of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease among patients at risk in primary care” CMAJ 2010. DOI: 10.1503/cmaj.091784. 

Source: “Undiagnosed COPD Common”, MedPage Today, April 6, 2010  

Exercise Can Overcome the Obesity Gene

Exercise on a treadmill is an excellent way to achieve an exercise level of moderate intensityAn hour a day of moderate to vigorous exercise can overcome the effect of a gene that predisposes people to obesity, Swedish researchers report.

More Information: What is Moderate Intensity Aerobic Exercise?

Source:  Ruiz JR, et al “Attenuation of the effect of the FTO rs9939609 polymorphism on total and central body fat by physical activity in adolescents: The HELENA Study” Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med 2010; 164(4): 328-33. 

Source: “Exercise Can Beat Obesity Gene”, MedPage Today, April 5, 2010

OTC Diet Pills Can Be Dangerous and Addictive

PillsOver-the-Counter diet pills may have undeclared pharmaceutical ingredients which can be dangerous and extremely addictive, researchers say. In fact the FDA has recently issued several warnings on diet pills with undeclared ingredients, specifically amphetamine-based ones from Brazil.

Harvard physicians report a recent case of a 29-year-old female patient who became addicted to Brazilian diet pills that contained unlabeled ingredients.  She reported taking the Brazilian diet pills for four years and had gone into debt to purchase the pills from an acquaintance, spending $160 per month.

At the time of her first visit with a physician, she had been suffering with a number of symptoms that she attributed to the pills and when she tried to quit, she would experience cravings, tremor, headache, and anxiety.

The diet pills were found to contain an amphetamine, chlordiazepoxide, and fluoxetine, which were illegal, dangerous, and not included on the label.  Apparently, all of these components could have contributed to the woman’s depression, anxiety, and hallucinations, as well as her dependence on the pills.

In an article by MedPage Today, “Diet pills with unlabeled ingredients are nothing new… In the 1960s, ‘rainbow pills’ contained amphetamines, diuretics, thyroid hormone, and cardiac glycosides. They were banned after their use was linked to sudden cardiac deaths.  In the 1980s, diet pills comprised of amphetamines, benzodiazepines, thyroid hormone, and diuretics appeared in Europe and South America. They’ve long been banned but remain widely available.”

Source: Smith BR, Cohen PA “Dependence on the Brazilian diet pill: a case report” Am J Addict 2010; DOI: 10.1111/j.1521-0391.2010.00034.x.

Source: “Adulterated Diet Pills Could Be Addictive”, MedPage Today, April 5, 2010